NEW JERSEY — New Jersey First Lady Tammy Murphy introduced the state’s Maternal and Infant Health Strategic Plan at an online press conference earlier today. This is part of the First Lady’s “Nurture New Jersey” initiative, which addresses the state’s high maternal mortality rate and the racial disparities in the healthcare system.

According to Mrs. Murphy, this plan was crafted over the course of a year with the assistance of doctors, department heads and activists. It is designed to make “transformational changes” to address systemic racism and meet the needs of black mothers across the state.

“The goal is to reduce the maternal mortality rate by 50% over five years and eliminate the racial disparities in birth outcomes,” Mrs. Murphy said, “ultimately, the success of this plan depends on our active partnerships and collaborations.”

Sign Up for Plainfield Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

According to the state’s website, New Jersey ranks 47th in maternal deaths in the United States. On average, 47 women die per every 10,000 live births in New Jersey compared to the nation rate of 20 deaths per 10,000 live births. A Black mother is seven times more likely than a white mother to die from maternity related complications and a black baby is three times more likely than a white baby to die before their first baby, according to Tammy Murphy.

Recommendations in the plan include increasing prenatal care for women of color, creating a maternal health and innovation center and implementing broad reforms aimed at dismantling structures which prevent women of color from receiving proper care.

At the start of the press conference, two Black women from New Jersey discussed their experience giving birth. Alisha Harper, a Newark native, was unable to schedule a Cesarean section ahead of a difficult delivery. Harper said she felt discriminated against due to the fact that she was on Medicaid.

Ajanee McConnell was pregnant in 2019 while she was still a full time student, she was unable to pay her medical bills during prenatal care. Being unable to find a facility that accepted Medicaid, she resorted to attending a clinic where she was unable to get the medical attention she needed.

Weeks before her delivery, McConnell was experiencing intense pain and was ignored by her doctors claiming she was having ‘mom jitters’ and was told that her pain was normal. Before going into labor, McConnell continued to feel agitation and was told to ‘drink more water.’ She experienced a placenta abruption at home and had an emergency Cesarean section. Three days later, her son passed away in the hospital.

“I wish I knew then what I know now. I wish I would have demanded those tests and better care because I knew the pain I felt was nowhere close to being normal. The pain will never match the aching in my heart that I will feel for the rest of my life,” McConnell said in her emotional speech, “I share my story so that other young Black moms know their voices deserve to be heard, and when you know that something is wrong don't let anyone silence you.”

The press conference featured Dr. Diane Rowley, an epidemiologist and pediatrician who assembled the first group of researchers to examine the racial disparities in maternal healthcare at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1993. Dr. Rowley discussed the diverse team of doctors and health care professionals who came together to assemble the plan.

Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver advocated for more Sex Education in New Jersey schools, particularly for the female reproductive system in order to remove the stigma around discussing women’s heath. Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-12) spoke about the general state of the healthcare system in the United States.

“We understand that this is a whole of government issue. While we are doing things that are going to be a model for the nation, we have a role on the federal levels as well,” Congresswoman Watson-Coleman said, “We need to educate people, we need to inform people, and we need to hold people accountable.”